This exquisite gold ring, set with garnet and pearl, is a fine example of an unusual decorative ring type dating from the early Byzantine period, around the late fifth to early sixth century AD. The hoop comprises a single piece of hammered sheet gold, broad and flat at the top, a ‘U’-shaped section to its tapering sides and back. The high, lightly flared rectangular bezel is set with a bright red garnet, a low cabochon of rounded rectangular form. There is a double corrugated band where the raised setting joins the flat surface of the hoop. To the side of the hoop is a conical calyx-style setting flanked by S-scrolls in gold strip and surmounted by a small pearl held within a twisted wire surround by means of a wire through its piercing.
The multi-part construction is typical for decorative, gem-set rings of the early Byzantine period, in contrast to earlier Roman examples. The ring can be dated by the form of the setting and also by the use of the conical-calyx, here seemingly combined with the older motif of the cornucopia. In Early Byzantine jewellery, the calyx form, representing the lotus, symbolized the birth of Christ. The idea derived from the ancient Egyptian motif of the lotus as the birthplace of the child-god Horus and continues to this day, the lotus or lily symbolizing the Virgin Mary.
This ring belongs to a small group of similarly constructed examples, all set with precious gems such as garnet, amethyst, emerald and sapphire, several of which have the same conical side bezel securing a pearl. The high quality of the craftsmanship suggests that they are the product of an important workshop in Constantinople, where fashions in jewellery were set after imperial models. For three examples of this group, one set with garnet, one with emerald, and one with an amethyst, see nos 12, 13, and fig. 12.1 in J. Spier, Byzantium and the West: Jewellery in the First Millennium (London, 2012).
Private Collection, Germany, 1980s.
Private Collection, New York, 1999.
Published: Christie's, New York, December 13, 2013, no 332.